Top Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes persistent inflammation of the joints. It may also affect the eyes, skin and lungs, as well as the heart and blood vessels. The condition occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue.
Unlike osteoarthritis, which is characterized by wear-and-tear damage, rheumatoid arthritis affects the synovium – the connective tissue lining your joints. The persistent swelling thickens the membrane, which eventually damages cartilage and erodes bone. It also weakens and stretches the tendons and ligaments that hold the joint. In addition to osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis increases the risk of developing carpel tunnel syndrome, heart problems and lung disease as well as lymphoma and infections.
Symptoms and Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages because the signs and symptoms are similar to other diseases. In addition to joint swelling, pain and stiffness, it causes fatigue, fever and weight loss. The smaller joints of the hands and feet are affected in the initial stages. As the disease progresses, the pain and swelling spread to the wrists, elbows and shoulders as well as the knees and hips. Symptoms typically occur in the same joints on both sides of your body.
The intensity and severity of the signs and symptoms will vary throughout the course of the disease. While the cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, there are several risk factors. These include genetics and environmental factors, like bacterial or viral infections. Women and individuals between the ages of 40 and 60 are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis. Smoking and obesity are also contributing factors.
Medical Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis
The objective of rheumatoid arthritis treatment is to prevent inflammation that causes pain and joint damage, to improve physical function, and reduce the risk of long-term complications. While there is no cure, remission of the disease is possible. In many cases, joint damage can be slowed or stopped. Treatment of the condition generally requires the use of various therapies.
The types of medications recommended by your doctor will depend upon the severity of your symptoms and the length of time that you have had the disease. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) relieve pain and reduce swelling. You may take over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or a stronger prescription-strength drug.
In addition to reducing pain and swelling, corticosteroids, such as prednisone, slow joint damage. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs or biological agents that target the immune system.
Your doctor may recommend that you see a physical or occupational therapist who will teach you exercises designed to keep your joints flexible. The therapist may also demonstrate or suggest ergonomic techniques to perform daily tasks that relieve stress on your joints.
A variety of devices can improve your mobility. These include splints, braces and customized shoe inserts that help to stabilize your joints. Canes and crutches may make it easier to walk by taking weight off your joints. While special household tools may make everyday chores easier, grab bars and handrails enable you to navigate safely around your home.
Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers commonly use some complementary alternative medical treatments as well. These include acupuncture, chiropractic care and massage therapy. Some individuals also engage in activities like tai chi and meditation to alleviate the mental stress and control the pain. Small studies have shown that the stretching, gentle exercises and deep breathing techniques of tai chi reduce arthritis pain. Anecdotal evidence suggests that acupuncture soothes some of the pain and swelling by stimulating the release of endorphins, your body’s natural painkiller.
Research conducted by the University of Miami School of Medicine reveals that massage therapy offers numerous benefits, including reduction of pain, stiffness and inflammation. Other positive results included an increase in grip strength, range of motion and overall joint function. Hypnosis, guided imagery, deep breathing and muscle relaxation techniques have also been shown to alleviate mental stress and help control arthritis pain.
If medication and other treatment options fail to slow or prevent joint damage, your doctor may recommend surgery to repair your damaged joints and restore their normal function. Surgery may also reduce pain and correct deformities.
Natural Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Along with proper rest, stress management and regular exercise, eating a healthy diet can improve your quality of life. When a flare-up occurs, you should rest as much as possible. Overexertion can worsen your symptoms and cause further damage. Exercise can promote general health and flexibility while strengthening muscle weakened by rheumatoid arthritis. Ask your doctor or physical therapist for a list of low-impact exercises like gentle stretching and swimming that will not strain your joints.
Hot and Cold Therapies
Tense muscles may benefit from an application of heat, including a hot bath or shower. You can enhance the therapeutic effects of your bath by adding Epsom salts to the water and then soaking for at least 10 minutes. Warm compresses also relax muscles and stimulate blood flow. A heating pad set on low can provide relief. Pain sensations can be dulled by the numbing effect of a cold pack or soaking the affected joint in cold water. Ice packs can reduce swelling and inflammation and may reduce muscle spasms. Your doctor may also recommend placing the affected joints in warm water for a few minutes followed by a one-minute immersion in cold water. This cycle is repeated for 30 minutes before finishing with a warm water soak.
Anti-Inflammatory Foods and Nutritional Supplements
Studies have shown that certain foods can lessen the inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Research indicates that fish and plant oils can reduce pain and morning stiffness. The omega-3 fatty acids present in salmon, tuna and mackerel have anti-inflammatory properties. Increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables will boost important nutrients like dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and stress-reducing antioxidants. Juniper berry tea has detoxifying properties that reduce inflammation. Lemons also have numerous health benefits. Studies show that lemon juice boosts the immune system, improves circulation and can help prevent osteoarthritis.
Many herbs and spices possess anti-inflammatory properties. When preparing meals, add ingredients like cloves, garlic and turmeric as well as ginger, cinnamon and cayenne. While scientists are still studying the positive effects of cloves, research confirms that people with rheumatoid arthritis who eat ginger regularly are less likely to experience pain, swelling and stiffness. This is attributed to the large amount of anti-inflammatory gingerols found in the plant root.
Research at the University of Texas has shown that the essential oil found in turmeric has anti-arthritic properties. Findings published in the journal Food and Function show cinnamon can help aid with aches and pains. Garlic may help ease rheumatoid arthritis pain. A study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology documented garlic’s ability to inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory substances known as cytokines. Cayenne contains capsaicinoids, which are natural anti-inflammatory compounds.
A comprehensive approach that includes natural and medical treatments may provide you the most relief from pain and stiffness caused by rheumatoid arthritis while preventing further damage to your joints. Speak with your doctor before beginning an exercise regimen. Your physician can also determine whether certain foods increase the risk for experiencing drug side effects.